A Vegan and a Smoker and the Sacraments

My whole life I have had an iron stomach. I could eat anything, any combination of things and feel like a million bucks! In my 20’s I had friends the same age who experienced terrible heartburn or other fun side effects from their meals and I would always pick on them a little. I mean, we were in our 20’s for goodness sake. Stop acting like you’re 60. It was only a cheeseburger.

Then around the age of 32 or 33, it hit me too. Most meals would send me into excruciating pain and misery. I tried all sorts of different meds and elimination diets and medical procedures, all to no avail. No matter what I did, the misery ensued. One thing I never tried was giving up my cigarettes. Yes, I am completely aware of all the horrible, disgusting, gross aspects of smoking. I know every fact you could think to tell me and believe me when I say that no one has ever given me a harder time about smoking than me. I live with shame and guilt daily but we will come back to that in a minute.

In January I had had enough with the stomach issues. On the 29th of that month I was experiencing a particularly painful attack at work. I gathered a couple of friends, had them lay hands on me, and together we prayed and prayed that the Lord would heal my sad little stomach. He didn’t. Well, at least not in the way we read about in the Bible. I still hurt and still struggled to get through the rest of my workday. But what did happen was within 24 hours I had lots of ideas and clues as to what could causing these problems and where to go from there. Long story short- I became a vegan. Also, I have been well ever since.

Veganism is somewhat radical. Believe me, everyone I know has taken the opportunity to tell me so. I can’t count the number of times I have been made fun of or had someone try to talk me out of it. But I’m hanging in there and thanking the Lord for leading me to a path that has fixed me. And guess what? I’m still smoking. Kind of an oxymoron isn’t it? I’m able to give up most of my food comforts, addictions, crutches (thank Jesus for tortilla chips. I get to keep those!) but it seems I will be damned before I give up those precious cigarettes.

Over the last 5 months of this “new lifestyle” it has gotten me thinking. I have all the grace in the world for those around me. Almost 100% of the time I am able to understand why someone behaves the way they do. I get why they make the choices they make, especially the poor ones. I have empathy and compassion almost to a fault. I do challenge folks to grow and change but when they fall short I can always understand the role their brokenness plays in their decisions. I believe God will heal them and I know, know, know in my heart that their life will not always look like it does right now. But as long as I live I will never understand why I am absolutely incapable of extending those same graces to myself.

I don’t struggle with my identity. I know with every fiber of my being that I am a beloved daughter of God. I am so wrapped up in Jesus that there is never any way someone or something could seperate us from one another, but for some odd reason I also can’t ever let myself just BE. Somehow I am never enough, never good enough. I stuggle with poor body image, feelings of inadequacy as a woman, wife, mother, feelings of being under-eduacated and therefore not very smart. And of course, I spend everyday of my life beating myself up for the cigarettes!! How ridiculous is all of that?!

So now is the part where I lead you to Scriptures about grace and God’s love and talk about our identity and the lies of the enemy, not to mention the lies of our culture. But that isn’t what is most pressing on my heart. Today we had a guest speaker at our church, Dr. Chris Green. He spoke about the Sacraments and the role they play in the church and the role they play in our very own lives. It was life changing for me. And life giving for that matter!

In John 6, Jesus tells people that to have eternal life in you, you must eat his flesh and drink his blood. How scandalous! And confusing! And bizarre! And even offensive. But the end of that chapter and the account of the Last Supper is what gave the church today our practice of Communion. We as a people were also given baptism and foot washing and the practice of annointing with oil. All of it is strange and other-worldly and not one bit of it makes sense. Clearly, we can’t dissect all of these things in a blog post and if we could I certainly wouldn’t be the right person to do it.

But I know this, we do these things because we believe and call on the name of Jesus and he said that if claim Him, and the Father, and the Spirit as our own, then these are the practices we are to partake of. We do them out of obedience and we do them because we trust that God knows best about what is best for us. We do them because we trust that by participating in the practices God himself set for us, that somewhere deep down over time we change.

Jesus and I have been together for 7 years now. I attend a Pentecostal church, but it is one that strongly believes in the importance and beauty of the Sacrements and liturgy and honoring the traditions of those who came before us. And it has been totally surprising to me that over these 7 years just about my favorite part of our worship services has always been the scaremental, liturgical parts. I feel Jesus in them, I am fully able to meet him there. I don’t know what is happening to me during those moments, but I love them none the less.

Today as Dr. Green spoke it was as if it all finally clicked. I love those practices and those moments because God himself ordained them and said they are good for us. It is in those moments I am doing the things Jesus himself did while here in human form. And after 7 years of joining in the practices of Jesus and my forefathers after, I can honestly say I have changed and that I am continuing to change. He is resetting my insides to look more like His own.

Yes, I have the discipline to be a vegan. Yes, I am still a smoker. No, I am not proud of that part of me. But in all the ways that really, really count I am being daily conformed into the image of Christ. And so often it is through His Sacraments. I don’t think I really realized that until today. So for now, I am going to attempt to extend a little grace in my direction because I am not the woman I was when I met Jesus so many years ago.